US: Rethinking horse slaughterhouses
Posted: January 6th, 2011 - 1:19pm
Source: Wall Street Journal
Less than four years after the last equine slaughterhouses in the U.S. closed down, an unlikely coalition of ranchers, horse owners and animal-welfare groups is trying to bring them back.
The group, gathering in Las Vegas this week for a conference called Summit of the Horse, aims to map out a strategy for reviving an industry that slaughtered as many as 100,000 horses a year in the U.S. before it was effectively shut down by congressional action in 2007.
Advocates say the slaughterhouses could bring an economic boost to rural areas and give owners who no longer have the means or inclination to care for the horses an economical and humane way to dispose of them.
"We believe that humane processing is absolutely a moral and an ethical choice," said Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker who organized the event.
Ms. Wallis is working on bringing a slaughterhouse to her state, but said her coalition first must overcome what she called "the 'ick' factor."
Indeed, animal-welfare activists opposed to the resumption of slaughter say the public will rally to stop it, since many Americans grew up with such books as "Black Beauty" and TV shows like "Mister Ed" and consider horses companions, not meals.
"Public opinion is with us," said Patti Klein Manke, executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society.
Pressure from animal-rights groups and from undercover videos that circulated on the Internet and showed apparent cruelties in the horse-butchering process prompted Congress to shut off all funds for inspecting equine slaughterhouses in 2007. That dealt the industry a fatal blow, as federal inspections were required by law before the meat could be exported for human consumption. Most horse meat from the U.S. was sent to the lucrative markets of Europe and Asia, where the flesh is stewed, grilled or sliced thin and eaten raw.
Though horse lovers cheered when the last slaughterhouses were shuttered, some now say they may not have thought through the consequences.
The slaughterhouses disposed of the thousands of horses abandoned or relinquished each year by owners who find them too old or temperamental to be useful or who simply can no longer afford to care for them. Now, many of those horses are sold for $10 or $20 at low-end auctions and packed on crowded transports to be slaughtered in Mexico. Animal-welfare experts say the horses often suffer greatly on the journey.
In 2006, just 11,080 U.S. horses were shipped to Mexico for slaughter. In 2008, after the American industry shut down, that number jumped to 57,017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.